Journalism in the Public Interest


After Taiwan Trip, NY Congressman Orders Ethics Training for Staff

Announcement comes following ProPublica story on lobbyist role in Bill Owens’ trip to Taiwan.

Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y., is ordering ethics training for his staff following a ProPublica story on a trip the congressman and his wife took to Taiwan that was organized by lobbyists.

House rules bar members from going on trips arranged by lobbyists. Owens announced that he was reimbursing $22,000 to the trip's official sponsor, a university in Taiwan, the day after we co-published the story with Politico. Owens and his wife enjoyed $500-a-night luxury hotels during his stay. The firm that organized the trip, Park Strategies, works for the government of Taiwan. Emails show Park lobbyists inviting the congressman on the trip and organizing it over four months.

In an interview with the editorial board of the Post-Star in Glen Falls, N.Y., Owens said, "I'm bringing in an expert on House ethics to give a seminar to my staff. Because that's the advice I would have given to a client when I was a lawyer. If you have a screw up in the office, fix it, prospectively."

Owens continued: "Uncomfortable? Yes. But the reason I paid the money back was because once the issue was brought to the fore, I said, 'I'm not standing for this.' We heard about this on Thursday morning, and I acted by Friday at noon time."

The group Public Citizen has also called on the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate Park Strategies. The firm, which was founded by former Sen. Al D'Amato and employs the son of Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., has denied wrongdoing.

Unfortunately, the “solution” to the problem is attacking the wrong part.  The educational exemptions need to be eliminated, rather than making sure Congressional flunkies can better work the loophole without getting caught.

My personal feeling is that we shouldn’t let our representatives out of the country at all, regardless of who pays.

@John FWIW, the educational exception only applies to American universities (and thus did not apply in this case). Discussed at further length here:

So it’s his STAFF’S fault?  Huh?

You’re right, of course, Justin, but I feel like that’s still far too large.

I’m not suggesting any of these people are dangerous or underhanded, by any means.  But as an example, when they need a hand, I’m an adjunct professor at a New York college.  The majority of the faculty and staff in most departments in our school of the university consists of foreign nationals, and at least one was deported when his daytime-employer was caught in an espionage scandal a few years back.

My point is that it wouldn’t be very hard for a foreign agent (as Park seems to have done here) to operate through a college without drawing too much attention.

But either way, the aim should be to prevent influence, rather than blaming the staff and training them to more effectively exploit the loophole next time.